Long Walk Home: The Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford

In 1961, Sheila Burnford’s first book, The Incredible Journey, became an international bestseller and, eventually, a popular Walt Disney film.

Creative team

Writer: Dianne Brothers
Directors: Kelly Saxberg, Dianne Brothers
Producers: Kelly Saxberg, Ron Harpelle, Dianne Brothers

Filmmakers’ statement

For decades, The Incredible Journey has been a family classic with numerous generations embracing the story of two dogs and a cat lost in the wilderness as they attempted to find their way home. A successful Walt Disney movie (and subsequent remakes) have kept the story in people’s hearts. Less is known about the woman who authored the original book: Sheila Burnford.

Born in Scotland, she was a woman who embraced adventure and found herself in the middle of history during Europe’s most volatile period. After the war, in her new home in Northwestern Ontario, she once again set off in search of adventure. Everything she saw, everything she experienced, would eventually be used in her writings.

Narrated by Sheila’s daughter, Jonquil Burnford Covello and using Sheila’s own words (published works and personal correspondence), family photos and home movies, this film explores the life of an incredible woman who loved adventure, nature and all animals. And in particular her love for a white bull terrier who was with her through the Blitz, life, death and all major family events. Her desire to memorialize him would lead to her greatest triumph.

In researching this film, with the co-operation of Sheila’s daughters, Peronelle, Jonquil and Juliet, we were awed by the life Sheila Burnford lived before and after she arrived in Canada. We feel it is past time for Sheila Burnford to be recognized for the influence she had on Northwestern Ontario and Canadian literature.

About Kelly Saxberg

Kelly Saxberg

Kelly Saxberg is a film producer, director, editor and cinematographer who has worked on over 90 films. She works in English, French, Spanish and Finnish.

Most recently she completed Long Walk Home: The Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford, a short documentary she co-directed with Dianne Brothers.

In 2016, she produced, shot and edited A.K.A. a feature documentary directed by Ron Harpelle about a serial imposter. In 2015, she was the cinematographer and producer of Guardians of Eternity, a documentary directed by France Benoit about the toxic legacy of the Giant Mine in Yellowknife.

In 2014, she produced, shot and edited Pulp Friction, directed by Ron Harpelle, about globalization and the forestry communities Terrace Bay, Ontario, Kemijärvi, Finland and Fray Bentos, Uruguay.

Seeking Bimaadiziiwin was her debut as a fiction director on a 30-minute drama that looks at depression and suicide among First Nations youth. It won best short film at the American Indian Film Festival and several other awards.

Her other films include Dorothea Mitchell: A Reel Pioneer, Voyageur’s Legacy: Our Story / Le printemps des voyageurs: La Genèse, the award-winning Banana Split and the NFB production Rosies of the North.

She also edited The Fatal Flower – a silent film shot originally in 1930 and finished by members of the film and video co-op Flash Frame Film and Video Network of which she is past chair and founding member.

About Dianne Brothers

Dianne Brothers is fairly new to filmmaking, following a career with the Canadian Federal Public Service. Most recently, she was the lead writer and co-director of Long Walk Home: The Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford.

In 2013 she completed her first film as writer/director, Silence Invader. The film debuted at the Bay Street Film Festival and won a People’s Choice award. It has since been selected by numerous international film festivals and was recently selected as one of the ‘Best Shorts’ at the Faux Film Festival in Portland Oregon.

Her first film experience was working as a script supervisor for Under the Red Star (directed by Kelly Saxberg), a feature-length film shot on film with dozens of actors and over 200 extras. As script supervisor she worked in close proximity with the director and first A.D. and was introduced to how to break down and shoot a scene.

After that initial experience, she worked on two independent films, Chopsticks which she wrote and co-directed, and Sticky Money which she produced and also acted as script supervisor. With Chopsticks, which was made for a 48-hour film challenge, she was involved in all aspects of the film from its initial inception to its post-production and editing.

With Sticky Money, which was made in collaboration with the Thunder Bay film collective Flash Frame, she was responsible, as producer, with scheduling and organizing the shoot which had a complicated set of locations and a fairly large cast for a small film.

She was a writer for the dramatizations for A.K.A. a film about serial imposter Ronald Ivan Macdonald.

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